HABIT--a tendency or aptitude acquired by custom or frequent
The critics have assailed every source of inspiration save one. To that
one we are driven for our moral theme. When we levied upon the masters
of old they gleefully dug up the parallels to our columns. When we
strove to set forth real life they reproached us for trying to imitate
Henry George, George Washington, Washington Irving, and Irving
Bacheller. We wrote of the West and the East, and they accused us
of both Jesse and Henry James. We wrote from our heart--and they
said something about a disordered liver. We took a text from Matthew
or--er--yes, Deuteronomy, but the preachers were hammering away at the
inspiration idea before we could get into type. So, driven to the wall,
we go for our subject-matter to the reliable, old, moral, unassailable
vade mecum--the unabridged dictionary.
Miss Merriam was cashier at Hinkle's. Hinkle's is one of the big
downtown restaurants. It is in what the papers call the "financial
district." Each day from 12 o'clock to 2 Hinkle's was full of hungry
customers--messenger boys, stenographers, brokers, owners of mining
stock, promoters, inventors with patents pending--and also people with
The cashiership at Hinkle's was no sinecure. Hinkle egged and toasted
and griddle-caked and coffeed a good many customers; and he lunched
(as good a word as "dined") many more. It might be said that Hinkle's
breakfast crowd was a contingent, but his luncheon patronage amounted
to a horde.
Miss Merriam sat on a stool at a desk inclosed on three sides by a
strong, high fencing of woven brass wire. Through an arched opening at
the bottom you thrust your waiter's check and the money, while your
heart went pit-a-pat.
For Miss Merriam was lovely and capable. She could take 45 cents out of
a $2 bill and refuse an offer of marriage before you could--Next!--lost
your chance--please don't shove. She could keep cool and collected while
she collected your check, give you the correct change, win your heart,
indicate the toothpick stand, and rate you to a quarter of a cent better
than Bradstreet could to a thousand in less time than it takes to pepper
an egg with one of Hinkle's casters.
There is an old and dignified allusion to the "fierce light that beats
upon a throne." The light that beats upon the young lady cashier's cage
is also something fierce. The other fellow is responsible for the slang.
Every male patron of Hinkle's, from the A. D. T. boys up to the
curbstone brokers, adored Miss Merriam. When they paid their checks
they wooed her with every wile known to Cupid's art. Between the meshes
of the brass railing went smiles, winks, compliments, tender vows,
invitations to dinner, sighs, languishing looks and merry banter that
was wafted pointedly back by the gifted Miss Merriam.
There is no coign of vantage more effective than the position of young
lady cashier. She sits there, easily queen of the court of commerce; she
is duchess of dollars and devoirs, countess of compliments and coin,
leading lady of love and luncheon. You take from her a smile and a
Canadian dime, and you go your way uncomplaining. You count the cheery
word or two that she tosses you as misers count their treasures; and
you pocket the change for a five uncomputed. Perhaps the brass-bound
inaccessibility multiplies her charms--anyhow, she is a shirt-waisted
angel, immaculate, trim, manicured, seductive, bright-eyed, ready,
alert--Psyche, Circe, and Ate in one, separating you from your
circulating medium after your sirloin medium.
The young men who broke bread at Hinkle's never settled with the cashier
without an exchange of badinage and open compliment. Many of them went
to greater lengths and dropped promissory hints of theatre tickets
and chocolates. The older men spoke plainly of orange blossoms,
generally withering the tentative petals by after-allusions to Harlem
flats. One broker, who had been squeezed by copper proposed to Miss
Merriam more regularly than he ate.
During a brisk luncheon hour Miss Merriam's conversation, while she took
money for checks, would run something like this:
"Good morning, Mr. Haskins--sir?--it's natural, thank you--don't be
quite so fresh . . . Hello, Johnny--ten, fifteen, twenty--chase along
now or they'll take the letters off your cap . . . Beg pardon--count
it again, please--Oh, don't mention it . . . Vaudeville?--thanks;
not on your moving picture--I was to see Carter in Hedda Gabler on
Wednesday night with Mr. Simmons . . . 'Scuse me, I thought that
was a quarter . . . Twenty-five and seventy-five's a dollar--got
that ham-and-cabbage habit yet. I see, Billy . . . Who are you
addressing?--say--you'll get all that's coming to you in a
minute . . . Oh, fudge! Mr. Bassett--you're always fooling--no--?
Well, maybe I'll marry you some day--three, four and sixty-five
is five . . . Kindly keep them remarks to yourself, if you
please . . . Ten cents?--'scuse me; the check calls for seventy--well,
maybe it is a one instead of a seven . . . Oh, do you like it that
way, Mr. Saunders?--some prefer a pomp; but they say this Cleo de
Merody does suit refined features . . . and ten is fifty . . . Hike
along there, buddy; don't take this for a Coney Island ticket
booth . . . Huh?--why, Macy's--don't it fit nice? Oh, no, it isn't too
cool--these light-weight fabrics is all the go this season . . . Come
again, please--that's the third time you've tried to--what?--forget
it--that lead quarter is an old friend of mine . . . Sixty-five?--must
have had your salary raised, Mr. Wilson . . . I seen you on Sixth
Avenue Tuesday afternoon, Mr. De Forest--swell?--oh, my!--who
is she? . . . What's the matter with it?--why, it ain't
money--what?--Columbian half?--well, this ain't South
America . . . Yes, I like the mixed best--Friday?--awfully
sorry, but I take my jiu-jitsu lesson on Friday--Thursday,
then . . . Thanks--that's sixteen times I've been told that this
morning--I guess I must be beautiful . . . Cut that out, please--who
do you think I am? . . . Why, Mr. Westbrook--do you really think
so?--the idea!--one--eighty and twenty's a dollar--thank you ever so
much, but I don't ever go automobile riding with gentlemen--your
aunt?--well, that's different--perhaps . . . Please don't get
fresh--your check was fifteen cents, I believe--kindly step aside and
let . . . Hello, Ben--coming around Thursday evening?--there's a
gentleman going to send around a box of chocolates, and . . . forty
and sixty is a dollar, and one is two . . ."
About the middle of one afternoon the dizzy goddess Vertigo--whose other
name is Fortune--suddenly smote an old, wealthy and eccentric banker
while he was walking past Hinkle's, on his way to a street car. A
wealthy and eccentric banker who rides in street cars is--move up,
please; there are others.
A Samaritan, a Pharisee, a man and a policeman who were first on the
spot lifted Banker McRamsey and carried him into Hinkle's restaurant.
When the aged but indestructible banker opened his eyes he saw a
beautiful vision bending over him with a pitiful, tender smile, bathing
his forehead with beef tea and chafing his hands with something frappé
out of a chafing-dish. Mr. McRamsey sighed, lost a vest button, gazed
with deep gratitude upon his fair preserveress, and then recovered
To the Seaside Library all who are anticipating a romance! Banker
McRamsey had an aged and respected wife, and his sentiments toward
Miss Merriam were fatherly. He talked to her for half an hour with
interest--not the kind that went with his talks during business hours.
The next day he brought Mrs. McRamsey down to see her. The old couple
were childless--they had only a married daughter living in Brooklyn.
To make a short story shorter, the beautiful cashier won the hearts
of the good old couple. They came to Hinkle's again and again; they
invited her to their old-fashioned but splendid home in one of the East
Seventies. Miss Merriam's winning loveliness, her sweet frankness and
impulsive heart took them by storm. They said a hundred times that Miss
Merriam reminded them so much of their lost daughter. The Brooklyn
matron, née Ramsey, had the figure of Buddha and a face like the ideal
of an art photographer. Miss Merriam was a combination of curves,
smiles, rose leaves, pearls, satin and hair-tonic posters. Enough of the
fatuity of parents.
A month after the worthy couple became acquainted with Miss Merriam, she
stood before Hinkle one afternoon and resigned her cashiership.
"They're going to adopt me," she told the bereft restaurateur. "They're
funny old people, but regular dears. And the swell home they have got!
Say, Hinkle, there isn't any use of talking--I'm on the à la carte to
wear brown duds and goggles in a whiz wagon, or marry a duke at least.
Still, I somehow hate to break out of the old cage. I've been cashiering
so long I feel funny doing anything else. I'll miss joshing the fellows
awfully when they line up to pay for the buckwheats and. But I can't let
this chance slide. And they're awfully good, Hinkle; I know I'll have a
swell time. You owe me nine-sixty-two and a half for the week. Cut out
the half if it hurts you, Hinkle."
And they did. Miss Merriam became Miss Rosa McRamsey. And she graced the
transition. Beauty is only skin-deep, but the nerves lie very near to
the skin. Nerve--but just here will you oblige by perusing again the
quotation with which this story begins?
The McRamseys poured out money like domestic champagne to polish their
adopted one. Milliners, dancing masters and private tutors got it.
Miss--er--McRamsey was grateful, loving, and tried to forget Hinkle's.
To give ample credit to the adaptability of the American girl, Hinkle's
did fade from her memory and speech most of the time.
Not every one will remember when the Earl of Hitesbury came to East
Seventy---- Street, America. He was only a fair-to-medium earl, without
debts, and he created little excitement. But you will surely remember
the evening when the Daughters of Benevolence held their bazaar in the
W----f-A----a Hotel. For you were there, and you wrote a note to Fannie
on the hotel paper, and mailed it, just to show her that--you did not?
Very well; that was the evening the baby was sick, of course.
At the bazaar the McRamseys were prominent. Miss Mer--er--McRamsey was
exquisitely beautiful. The Earl of Hitesbury had been very attentive to
her since he dropped in to have a look at America. At the charity bazaar
the affair was supposed to be going to be pulled off to a finish. An
earl is as good as a duke. Better. His standing may be lower, but his
outstanding accounts are also lower.
Our ex-young-lady-cashier was assigned to a booth. She was expected to
sell worthless articles to nobs and snobs at exorbitant prices. The
proceeds of the bazaar were to be used for giving the poor children of
the slums a Christmas din----Say! did you ever wonder where they get the
Miss McRamsey--beautiful, palpitating, excited, charming,
radiant--fluttered about in her booth. An imitation brass network, with
a little arched opening, fenced her in.
Along came the Earl, assured, delicate, accurate, admiring--admiring
greatly, and faced the open wicket.
"You look chawming, you know--'pon my word you do--my deah," he said,
Miss McRamsey whirled around.
"Cut that joshing out," she said, coolly and briskly. "Who do you think
you are talking to? Your check, please. Oh, Lordy!--"
Patrons of the bazaar became aware of a commotion and pressed around a
certain booth. The Earl of Hitesbury stood near by pulling a pale blond
and puzzled whisker.
"Miss McRamsey has fainted," some one explained.